Getting “out” with pentatonic scales

(related video here)


In addition to the other uses we’ve discussed for pentatonic scales, they also come in handy when we decide we’d like to temporarily leave whatever harmony might be going on at the moment in whatever music we might be playing.

To illustrate this, we’ll go back to our old friend, the A minor pentatonic scale. Its notes, once again, are:

A   C   D   E   G


If we wanted to get away from the sound of A minor, we’d probably want to play notes that had little or nothing in common with that A minor pentatonic scale, right?
One easy way to do that would be to use the minor pentatonic scales that are a half-step away in either direction. That’d be Bb minor going up and Ab minor going down. Those scales are:

Bb minor pentatonic – Bb  Db  Eb  F  Ab

Ab minor pentatonic – Ab  Cb  Db  Eb  Gb


Neither of those scales have any notes in common with A minor pentatonic. How much more “out” could you get?

Another good choice is Eb minor pentatonic: Eb Gb Ab Bb Db

Again, it has no notes in common with A minor.


As we did before with the A minor, B minor and E minor pentatonic scales (see “Shifting Minor Pentatonics”), we can create melodies that move through more than one scale to give us the sounds we want. Using the Bb minor, Ab minor and Eb minor scales interspersed with the A minor scale will make it sound as though we’re “stepping outside” the main harmony. And as before, if we use all the available fingering forms for the minor pentatonic scales, it’ll make moving through the scale sounds an easier and more seamless process.


To summarize, in this lesson and the previous lesson, we have covered six different uses for minor pentatonic scales on a single chord:

For useful, but non-dissonant sounds, try minor pentatonics on the root, the fifth or the ninth of the chord. On Am7, that’s A minor, E minor or B minor pentatonic.


For maximum dissonance, try minor pentatonics a half-step above or below the chord or a tritone away. On Am7, that’s Bb minor, Ab minor or Eb minor pentatonic.

If you want less dissonance than the above choices, you could use other scales: for example, F minor and C# minor might be interesting. They have notes in common with A minor but also have a couple of “out notes”. (Note that these scales are a major third down and a major third up from the root of A minor.)


The pentatonic scale is such a familiar sound to us that it gives your lines a structure listeners can “hang onto” even though you may be wandering outside the prevailing harmony. The effect is intensified if you can play a pattern and continue it through more than one scale. Here’s a link to a video in which I’m playing around with using pentatonics to “get out”.